Unless you actively avoid all mention of sport, in newspapers, on TV and radio, and otherwise going about your daily life, you will have heard of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. These two footballers are generally regarded as the best of their generation. They play for rival teams in La Liga (the top league in Spain), Ronaldo for Real Madrid and Messi for Barcelona. They are captains of their respective national sides, Portugal (Ronaldo) and Argentina (Messi). Both countries were eliminated from the World Cup earlier today. It is possible that neither player will feature in any future World Cup games.
Over the years I have spent hundreds of hours watching these two players on TV, not as a particular fan of either of them, or of any of the teams they play for, it’s just part of following major sporting events. Those hundreds of hours include three hours earlier today (France 4 Argentina 3 followed by Portugal 1 Uruguay 2). I have seen a bit more of Ronaldo than Messi, for a number of reasons. European tournaments are easier to follow than those in Latin America, and Portugal have done well in recent years. They reached the final of the European Championships in 2004, and won it in 2016. I have seen more of Real Madrid’s recent European ties than Barcelona’s, including their Champions League victories in each of the last three seasons. Barcelona have not reached the final since 2015.
Both players are prolific goal-scorers. This page, on a “Messi vs Ronaldo” website, tells me that as things stand Messi has scored 617 goals in 765 appearances and Ronaldo has scored 658 in 914 games. I have seen Ronaldo score plenty of goals while watching Portugal and Real Madrid, and the law of averages would suggest that I would have seen Messi score in all those hours of Argentina and Barcelona games. But I never have. He has never scored in any live game that I have seen, or even half-seen. If I am in the room, and Messi is on TV, he doesn’t score.
I first noticed this trend back in 2012 when Chelsea overcame Barcelona in the away leg of the Champions League semi-final. John Terry was sent off and Barcelona took a 2-0 lead, but Chelsea’s 10 men scored twice to go through on away goals. I watched the whole game on TV. Messi missed a penalty and hit the post late on. Two weeks ago, when Argentina played their first group game in this year’s World Cup, against Iceland, they were awarded a penalty. Throughout the match I had been telling my daughter that Messi has never scored when I have been watching, and as he stepped up to take the penalty I assumed that this was about to change. It didn’t. Iceland’s goalkeeper saved the spot-kick, and Messi continued not to score for the rest of the game. He did score in their game against Nigeria last Tuesday, in the first half, but I wasn’t watching, or even listening on the radio. My wife and I were at a school parents’ evening and didn’t check the score until part-way through the second half.
I missed the start of today’s game between France and Argentina, after spending time at the 50th anniversary celebrations of my children’s old nursery, and at my daughter’s School Summer Fair, but caught all the goals, including Argentina’s three. The second of these, which briefly gave them the lead, came from a shot by Messi. It was probably going in, but it deflected off Gabriel Mercado and he has been credited with the goal. So the rule still applies: if I’m watching, Messi doesn’t score.